Updated: Feb 22
Working remotely or working from home has quickly become a lot more than a growing trend. Nowadays it’s a necessary part of survival for most companies around the world, whether it’s by choice or to follow the new guidelines enforced by the government to keep their workers safe. Suddenly a large number of business leaders are faced with a question - ‘How do I lead and motivate my team effectively without physically seeing them?’ Working from home is something that was part of my life, even before the recent changes in the world. To help out others, I have compiled the following tips that should give you some idea on how to tackle working with your team remotely.
As staying at home has aggressively taken over everyone’s lives, the need to find new ways to cope with managing people is essential for any leader. No matter how fast the new restrictions related to Corona virus epidemic are pulled back, remote working is quite likely to leave a lasting effect on the business world. It will be part of our new reality and will be used by the workforce to add job flexibility or requested by business owners to change the way they work. This may bring along...
Decrease in trust. The absence of face to face interactions, could raise questions in managers - are the employees actually working and are tackling the correct tasks? On the other side of the coin, employees could interpret the same situation with doubts of not being appreciated by their bosses due to the decreased contact and support. It’s easy to have misunderstandings, when both sides make their own conclusion by reading between the lines.
Accessing information in timely matter. Working together but from the distance, it can take an unusually long time to get a response, even to the most simplest of questions. Especially in situations where it’s harder and harder to asses from a far what could be a pressing matter and what is not. As a result you’ll find decreased work efficiency and downwards trajectory in motivation.
Alienating while social distancing. Loneliness and the lack of sense of belonging could creep up on people, when working in separation from their colleagues is extending over a long period of time. The everyday friendly communication at work is reduced to only formal work conversations. This is felt especially by extroverts. The result? Breaking down of a team spirit.
A BIT OF THEORY
Before we dive into the tips on how effectively lead your remotely working team, we are going to look into what you need to consider as a leader. According to self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2008), people have 3 main psychological needs that create strong intrinsic motivation.
Autonomy: the need to feel freedom and choices with our actions, wish to do things in a way that suits us in the best way possible and according to our vision. The need to have personal goals.
Competence: the aspiration to be successful at completing (life’s) tasks, to fulfil our roles well and to rise up to expectations of others. The wish to decrease the negative and increase the positive experience and feedback.
Belongingness: the need to feel accepted, connected, unique and appreciated for the people in the close social circle.
If the person’s psychological needs have been met, they are ready to learn, develop and be active. The outcome is an inner motivation that increases effectiveness, quality and yields higher results. The intrinsically motivated person finds a way to complete tasks against all odds - when the outside factors are not favourable or even create obstacles in their way. What are the leadership tactics that help to create such an insightful and positive environment?
TIPS FOR LEADING REMOTELY
Check-in meetings. Schedule regular morning meetings for your team online. The aim here is to exchange information with every member giving a short summary of a previous working day’s success stories, obstacles, have a chance to ask for assistance as well as share the plans for the upcoming day. On top of that, it’s important to look over the KPIs and to synchronise the priorities of the day. Any themes that need a longer discussion should be scheduled for a separate virtual meeting. Check-in meetings should be short: 5-15 minutes. If it feels like (every day) there is nothing to discuss, it means everyone has done their job well and your role as a leader is to share praise for the work well done. Every day!
To avoid the discussions becoming too formal and focused only on the negatives, ask your team ‘What are the things that are going well?’ or ‘Is there anything fun that happened at home lately?’ If it suits your team better, you could schedule as a check-out meeting at the end of a work day instead.
Info cascade. With a multilayered leadership it’s important to sync up all the steps of the hierarchy. To achieve that, set up check-in meetings with all the levels of your business by scheduling check-in meeting with a little time apart. First meetings are for the front-line workers with their team leaders. Then team leaders with department heads. Followed by a meeting with the heads of the departments with the CEO. Every previous meeting informs the next higher level one and, once the meetings are over, the new info received from the top can be shared down again to each team if needed. That way you create a flow of information up and down the stream of the business structure and keep whole organisation synced continually together.
Weekly 1:1 meetings. Try to find 30 minutes a week to have one to one meetings with each of the staff members in the team you lead. This time should be scheduled as a regular weekly event in the calendar. First 15 minutes let your team member speak about anything that they think is essential to their role. Be attentive and responsive while listening with interest. Next 15 minutes is the time for the leader to talk about issues important to them. Such routine, although perhaps alien at first, helps to create trustworthy and close working relationships as well as open doors to many subjects that may get normally brushed aside. As a leader of people, your job is to frequently ask “what do you need to do your job effectively?”, “how can I help you remove any of the obstacles that are in your way?” or simply ask "how are you doing?" and mean it!
The rules of communication. Agree the ground rules of good communication. When do we get in contact via emails, phone or video calls? What times of the day are the best for everyone involved to have meetings and what part of the day is best for getting on with independent work (creative work in the mornings and meetings in the afternoon etc)? What are the communication pathways when an urgent issue needs resolving (for example normal information exchange is through an email but for faster results text messages and phone calls)? How to fast track unresolved issues - for example if a matter at hand has not been resolved with the exchange of 5 emails, is the next step to organise a meeting to find the solution? How fast we are expected to reply to different lanes of communications (for example an email within a day, chat or a text message within an hour and a phone call returned within 10 minutes)?
Virtual coffee breaks. In the office, relationships were built and the world put right by standing by a coffee machine or in the smoking area. Agree a time and the platform for the whole team (for example through Zoom) when you can all have a time for break and chat about everyday things. Why not also organise virtual Friday evening pizza nights? To keep the social connections strong, it’s important to have some downtime with co-workers.
Manage expectations. Be clear in your communication about what your objective are (you do know them yourself, right?) and agree with every team member their realistic goals and priorities. Take time to explain why they are important to you. That way they do not feel forced on anyone. Make it very clear what needs to be achieved, in what time-frame and by whom. Otherwise do not feel surprised if you experience delays in achieving these objectives. Clear out specific roles and where the responsibilities lie. This is especially crucial, if the size of the team has recently changed.
Focus on results. It’s tricky monitoring the process of a remotely working colleague. Regular working hours and time spend on different tasks is not important here. Instead of this, we need to evaluate results. To avoid surprise delays agree short term goals that can be overseen and checked. Give out tasks as well as freedom to find a suitable way, time and place to create the relevant results. Trust your people!
Create good working conditions. Many people working from home use very ascetic working tools. Can you allow temporary access for better tools from the office, such as mouse, keyboard and computer screens? Perhaps even an office chair? Who needs any of it in the empty office anyway? Ergonomics can have a significant influence on how long a person can successfully concentrate and contribute.
Emphasise the values. When everyone is working in their own little isolated world, it could be a lot harder to guide people’s decisions and choices. The core values of any organisation is what helps the leaders here. Have a good chat to your team and explain what these values mean in your business and how to implement them in the current climate. Encourage people to decide based on these values. Instigate a working culture where people can give each other feedback and guidance, if someone is heading off track.
Personal feedback. There are a lot of companies with disillusioned staff who have no idea if they are doing good work or moving in the right direction. Simply the feedback for the work they do is almost non-existent. Remote working is increasing that issue even more. Therefore, your job is to give more feedback for the work they do. Watch out for positives more often than the negatives, no matter how small the achievement is. For example, you could have observance diary - write down every occasion when you gave feedback to someone. On Friday evenings check, if every person has had feedback at least once a week. Or even better a (virtual) pat on the back?
Encourage innovation. The situation is new! Why should our working techniques stay old and stale? Inspire your team members to question old practices and look for new and more efficient ways to accomplish tasks and solutions for challenges. It is times like these, with big crises and transformations in the world, when foundations are made for clever new solutions. Together, figure out new solution, rather than problems.
In conclusion, I would say, that good remote leadership does not differ much from good leadership in the office. Every organisation is made up of people. People, and the flow of information between them, is what you actively need to concentrate on as a leader in this new era. The only big difference is the communication technology between us.
Inspired and want to discuss more? Maybe do a web-mentoring session?
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Special thanks to Teele Dunkley for editing this post!